When Salvador Espinoza mounts his horse, his back brace is tightened so he can sit upright. “This is where I have learned that athletes in wheelchairs have no limits,” he told the Associated Press. “The only limit is the one people give themselves.” At age 16, he lost the use of his legs after falling from a four-story building. But his love of sports goes back at least ten years. At a wheelchair basketball tournament, he met his wife Graciela Sánchez Martínez – who has Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause paralysis and weaken muscles. Nearly a decade after the two met, they are the Mexican Association of Paracharreria and Equestrian Therapy’s it-couple.
The association – founded in 2010 – gives the blind, deaf, or paralyzed the opportunity to become cowboys/girls. As part of the Mexican Federation of Charreria, it looks to challenge people’s perception of this community. And really, all you have to do is look at photos to know they’re unstoppable. The intense competition features lassoing, horse-reigning, bull-riding, and six more events. The association started competing at the 2011 at the Parapan American Games in Guadalajara.
Since then, the association has grown to a 26-member team across seven states in Mexico. “There is no other organization that has done this before us,” said Norma Angelica Patino Marquez, a sports medicine doctor who is also the president of the association. “In fact we invented everything, including the rules and system of medical-functional classification like they have in international paralympic sports.”
Espinoza and Sánchez have competed in at least a dozen competitions, with Graciela even serving as the Queen of Paracharrria. The transformation from wheelchair to mounted horse is an inexplicable joy for both Salvador and Graciela. “Charreria holds many Mexican traditions: the music, the outfits, the people,” Sánchez said. “And the fact that I am Mexican, it’s part of my traditions, my roots and my taste.”
Check out the pictures of Salvador and Graciela competing below: